Cars News and Reviews Tar Sands are Incompatible with new Climate Change Plan- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

President Obama's new plan to combat climate change makes much of energy efficiency, which is a much more popular way to go than advocating a lifestyle change (political suicide) or less gridlock-inducing than a carbon tax (the fastest way to effect lifestyle change). Instead, Mr. Obama chose to highlight the EPA's tightened fuel efficiency requirements for new cars (CAFE), and upcoming efficiency standards for appliances and building construction.

These are all steps in the right direction, but the president was vague on the approval or not of the Keystone XL, the pipeline that is to transport bitumen from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for refining. The controversy around the Keystone XL pipeline tends to centre around the environmental risk, job creation and US energy independence.

It seem foolhardy to rip out boreal forest, dig a 10-mile gash in the surface of the planet, and cart it all off, risking highly toxic spills through fragile environments (the original Keystone pipeline had more than thirty spills in its first year), only to sell the oil on the world market. On top of all that, tar sands have terrible energy efficiency.

Satellite image of oil sands operation at Fort McMurray, Alberta.

The days of gusher oil wells, where all you have to do is drill into the ground at the right place (not very deeply), and oil comes bursting out, are long gone. These days you have to spend energy to get energy: you need to drill deep, or sideways, or you need to pump the oil out, or carefully inject water to keep the pressure up. Hydraulic fracturing of shale takes immense amounts of both energy and water. The sun and the wind come to us for free, but harvesting their energy takes the building of wind turbines and photovoltaic cells, and that takes energy.

So the question we need to ask is, how much energy does it take to get one usable unit of energy from the various sources in our reach?

Just as the return on our financial investments are measured in terms of so many percent per year, so the return on our energy investments has its own measure: EROEI, or Energy Return On Energy Invested. EROEI is defined as the total energy you get out, divided by the total energy you put in to the process of extracting that energy output.

In the early 20th century, EROEI for oil is comfortably above 100: even pumping it out costs a lot less energy than what you get out. Currently, EROEI for oil averages around 35. For oil imported into the US, it's a lot lower, close to 12, because the transport by sea-going vessels takes a lot of energy.

For photovoltaic electricity generation, the EROEI of less than 7 seems very small, but it's still worth it because once you're built the solar panels, the energy the generated from the sun has zero carbon emissions. In the clean energy sector, nothing beats hydro-electric generation for efficiency - EROEI=100 - but you do need a good stream of water for that.

Data from geothunder and wikipedia

From the graphic you can see why coal is so attractive: digging it up takes very little energy compared to what you get out when you burn it. This is why in China, which has vast coal reserves, so many power plants run on coal, even though it contributes to both carbon emissions and smog.

[As an aside, the fuel with the very smallest EROEI is biodiesel. This is because growing the corn from which biodiesel is extracted requires oil: to work the fields, to fertilise it, for the herbicides, etc. Agriculture is a very oil-intensitive activity, and for biodiesel the EROEI is just 1.3. Remember that EROEI=1 is the breakeven point, where you put in as much energy as you get out: so what's the point of doing it?

Getting 30% return on your money is really good. But on energy it's not worth it. Especially considering all that corn could be better used for feeding people.]

Compared to the other fossil fuels, the return on tar sands is paltry: only around 3. That means that for every 3 barrels of oil won from tar sands, you have to give up one to get the next three barrels.

Put another way, a Prius (50mpg) running on high-EROEI oil emits 0.47 lbs CO2 per mile (because the well-to-pump efficiency of producing gasoline is about 83%). The same Prius running on gasoline extracted from tar sands would emit 0.71 lbs CO2 per mile, the equivalent of 33mpg.

In other words, running a Prius on tar sand oil eliminates, in one fell swoop, all the fuel efficiency gains from having the hybrid drive.

Given that energy efficiency is a big part of the new policy: why is the Keystone XL pipeline even a discussion?


Shared at Dude, Sustainable.



You may also like:

1. Why Discrimination is as Senseless for Cars as it is for Humans

2. What's so clean about diesel?


More aboutCars News and Reviews Tar Sands are Incompatible with new Climate Change Plan- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Cars News and Reviews How To Dispel EV Range Anxiety- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

Sales of electric cars have picked up in the US, now that prices are starting to come down. But while the price cuts have made EVs much more affordable, range anxiety still runs rampant. After all, this is a big country, and American like to roam it. So a single-charge range of less than 100 miles is simply underwhelming, when compared to a range of more than 300 miles for most gasoline-powered cars. Especially if you consider it takes five minutes to fill a gas tank, but hours to recharge an EV battery.

Photo jepoirrier

For shorter trips, the EV is ideal - especially if you manage to power it from renewable sources. So it is very popular with car sharing schemes in cities, where the trip distance tends to be quite small, and the number of charging stations high.

Even outside large cities, the average American daily commute to work is about 16 miles. Even if you lived 30 miles from work, the 75-mile range on a Nissan Leaf will do just fine, with some margin for unexpected detours. If you can plug it in at work, that would increase your range by a factor two.

There are several ways to extend the range: you could put in an extra engine running on gasoline that can charge the battery (Chevy Volt: total range 380 miles). In a fully electric car, you could stuff in a larger battery at larger expense (Tesla: range over 200 miles). You could make the engine smaller and more frugal (Daihatsu Mira EV: range 1000 km).

Photo Tokumeigakarinoaoshima

If you want to make an EV go farther on a single charge, what we need is a combination of more modestly powered engines, and better batteries. Current battery technology that relies on reversible reactions in rather nasty chemicals is many decades old, and it's time for a renewed effort to change the battery paradigm.

Hopeful signs are around, such as the metal-air based battery developed by Liberty Electric Cars, which expects to deliver a 1000-mile range in a few years.

While we wait for the 1000-mile battery, there are still ways to get around the range anxiety. The US is actually well-suited for mass development of the EV, because we have so many multi-car families: One option is to reserve the EV for the short-range daily commute only, and to use the conventional family car for longer trips.

But if the EV is the only vehicle in your household, you need to look for more creative solutions. In most cases, the EV will do just fine on most days when you're about your daily commute; it's the occasional long trip that requires an alternative solution.

Time to look outside the box: in this case, your electric box on wheels. You could take part in a car-sharing program for the few occasions that you need to drive longer distances. Memberships in these programs is growing fast, as is the number of pickup points.

Another innovative solution comes from BMW, which plans to provide drivers of its electric vehicles with loaner gasoline cars for the occasional long trip. This solution will actually work better in the US, where vacations are short, than in Europe where people can easily go away for a month during the summer break.

I think this is such a cool solution that even before other manufacturers replicate it, you should try making your own arrangement with your dealer at the purchase of an EV: many of them already have loaner cars for customers to use during repairs. Perhaps they can be persuaded to rent you one at reduced rate for your long trips - especially if doing so is the difference between making or breaking the deal on the EV.

And this just in: the French rail company SNCF offers free rides for Nissan Leafs of families boarding the Auto-Train to their vacation destination. That's out of the box!



You may also like:

1. Boys with (Electric) Toys


More aboutCars News and Reviews How To Dispel EV Range Anxiety- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Cars News and Reviews Greening Our Vacation - CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

It's easy for the Man of Steel: Whenever he's tired of saving the world and needs to retreat to his Fortress of Solitude over on the North Pole, he simply takes off and flies there, on his own power. The rest of us are not superheroes, and for us travel to remote places means we need to board a bird of steel (or, more accurately, some aluminium alloy).

Poster by Hamlet Au Yeung for Do The Green Thing

You can't deny that airplane travel is fast, but it also has a huge carbon footprint. It is true that any given scheduled flight / train / bus will depart whether or not you bought a seat on it. This argument certainly holds for travel on Amtrak trains, which tend to have a low occupation (outside of big travel holidays like Thanksgiving). So the marginal carbon emissions - the emissions due to the extra person travelling on that half-empty train - is quite small.

But airlines have removed from their schedules those flights that tend to be half full, and consolidated them with other flights, so most airplanes are filled near capacity these days. This means that on the aggregate, the more of us are looking to fly a segment (say Boston to San Diego), the more flights the airline will schedule on that segment.

Since a large part of airplanes' carbon footprint is in getting the plane off the ground, it's not surprising that short-haul flights have larger per-mile carbon emissions than long-haul ones. So travel by air should really be reserved for long-distance destinations.

For intermediate distances (say, a few hundred miles), there are many options with lower carbon emissions, including trains, buses and your own trusty car. When I did the estimates I found that a passenger car or a minivan can have surprisingly low carbon emissions per passenger-mile, as long as all the seats in the car are occupied.

So if it's only you and your favourite friend travelling, you may want to look into non-automotive options. For less than 400 miles the train is faster, door-to-door, than a plane, with a lot less hassle. But if your family of five is taking two friends along on a camping trip, a seven-seat minivan will do very well, carbon-wise. And it's still less expensive that the train. On the other hand, an ocean cruise is both expensive and high-carbon.

A bike is not included in the graphic above, because it has zero emissions (other than your laboured breathing as you negotiate a hill, building muscle and stamina). A bike-camping holiday is not for everyone, but you don't have to go around lugging tent, sleeping bag and camping stove, attached to your bike in creative ways: you could bike from inn to inn and have all the comfort you want in the evenings. From the savings on gas you can upgrade your accomodations. You could arrange similarly for walking holidays.

Photo Aikon. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Whatever option you choose, travel light: lugging huge heavy suitcases is bad for your back, and bad for your trip's carbon emissions. When we had our first baby, we travelled with two suitcases: our suitcase and the baby's suitcase. Now my children pack their own: a carry-on serves each for more than a month. After all, you don't need much clothing in the summer. We always plan to stay where we can do laundry.

Of course, if you vacation close to where you live, you save on time, expense and carbon emissions on travel. You can be out of your daily routine just by going an hour away.

And on that count, nothing beats a staycation. Once you've unseated the notion that "vacation" necessarily means "away", you open the door to the greenest and most comfortable vacation option.

On winter breaks when many families go south looking for warmth, we enjoy staying at home, hanging out with each other, playing games and making day trips, seeing friends and generally relaxing. Apart from the occasion that ViolaPlayer built an igloo in the yard and actually slept in it, we sleep in our own beds and have all our creature comforts.

Big bonus: greening our vacation would help preserve the arctic sea ice on which Superman's Fortress of Solitude was built. With all those floods and wildfires around there's plenty of hard work for him, and he deserves a break in a quiet place once in a while.


Shared at Living Green Tuesdays; Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways; Small Footprint Fridays.



You may also like:

1. Slash your carbon footprint

2. Is Energy from Natural Gas Cleaner than from Coal?

3. Green Is Frugal! Reducing Car Use and Meat Consumption

4. Confession time: My Big Fat Dutch Wedding

5. Why I Love High-Speed Trains


More aboutCars News and Reviews Greening Our Vacation - CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Cars News and Reviews Review: Honda CR-V- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

Bucking the trend, the very popular Honda CR-V has not grown over the years: since its introduction in 1995, its size has stayed pretty much the same in the length and width directions, and it has actually become less tall, going from about 70 inches for the early SUV to 65 inches for today's crossover.

While in the early days it looked like a utilitarian box on wheels much like the old Jeep, the CR-V has gradually moved its image toward sophistication, to the point that the sides now resemble a Lexus SUV. (There's some poetic justice in this, since the earliest Lexus RX, in my humble opinion, resembled a pregnant Honda Civic: what goes around comes around).

Inside the updated exterior is a pretty roomy cabin outfitted with creature comforts: optional leather seats to minimise the plastic surface areas, rear-view camera to help you navigate a cluttered driveway, various distraction technologies, in short, a nice place for people who actually believe that their car is their second living room.

Except that this one still has rather smaller windows than the standard living room: I guess the decrease in height has to come from somewhere.

The rear seats can be folded down in a 40-60 split for versatility. The resulting surface is not completely flat, but now you have up to 61 inches space between the backs of the front seats and the rear hatch. You might need that occasionally: because the wheels wells stick way into the interior, the CR-V's trunk is about 45 inches wide inside, which will just barely accomodate a 3/4 size cello in a soft case. A full size cello will have to go in on the diagonal.

[1: 985mm (38.8in). 2: 1345mm (53.0in). 3: 1570mm (61.8in). 4: 950mm (37.4in). 5: 665mm (26.2in).]

The Japanese site shows two sets of golf clubs fitting across the back of a CR-V. My guess is that the golf clubs inside those bags are relatively short (and would give my very tall brother in law a swingeing backache).

The other interesting thing about Honda's Japanese website is that it shows the CR-V entirely by itself in the "SUV" category, and the placement suggests that it's a luxury vehicle: perhaps for well-to-do Japanese moms whose children play golf.

[For the ordinary run-around Honda offers the N box, one of those very Japanese boxes on wheels: it has no trunk space to speak of, but two sliding doors for easy access to the back seat (and for parking in tight spaces); comes in an array of cute colours including a shimmering pink. The fuel efficiency of its 0.66L engine is specified at 57 mpg].

But I digress: back now to the CR-V, which comes in a range of engines: 2.0L and 2.4L gasoline engines, and a 2.2L diesel. Of these, the 2.4L engine is the least frugal (25-26mpg), and the only option for US buyers (orange box in the table below). You can't get it with manual transmission here, either. Which is another lost opportunity for Americans who want to drive a gas sipper.


Honda CR-V Engines

2.2 i-DTEC,

148HP, 4WD Man
42 spec

36 actual
2.2 i-DTEC,

148HP, 4WD Auto
36 spec

29 actual
2.0L i-VTEC,

153HP, 2WD Man
33 spec

29 actual
X   X  
2.0L i-VTEC,

153HP, 4WD Man
32 spec

29 actual
2.0L i-VTEC,

153HP, 4WD Auto
31 spec

25 actual
X X    
2.4L i-VTEC,

185HP, 2WD Auto
23 / 31 / 26       X
2.4L i-VTEC,

185HP, 4WD Auto
22 / 30 / 25   X X X
[* Fuel efficiency in miles per US gallon; "spec" indicates manufacturer's specification, "actual" indicates real-life mpg reported by drivers; triplet numbers are EPA cty/hwy/avg]

Even in the 2.0L manual CR-V, British drivers report on average 29mpg, even though their driving style tends to be a quite bit more vigorous. The higher fuel economy, and the lower price (smaller engines are always less expensive than larger ones) make the 2.0L an attractive option compared to the 2.4L.

The 2.2L diesel does 36 mpg even in British hands, which is 38% better than what you get from the 2.4L gasoline engine. Both the smaller engines still achieve 118 mph top speed.

Why don't we invite these diesels here? or at least broaden the choice a little for the American car buyer and get the smaller gasoline engine? Top speed never gets mentioned in the US, but my guess is that the 2.4L engine you can buy in the US now gets you well above 120 mph: not much use for most moms I know. (I don't know any mom who is an avid collector of speeding tickets).


Honda CR-V, engine comparison

Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC Manual
Type LX 2WD S 4WD
Year 2013 2013
Emissions rating  
MSRP $ 22,795 £ 24,710
CelloMom Rating
Fuel Economy: ULEV-2 EURO5
City/Hwy quoted 23 / 31 mpg 6.5 / 5.1 L/100km
Avg. quoted 26 mpg 5.6 L/100km (42mpg)
Avg. actual 36 mpg
Carbon emissions, quoted   149 g/km
Engine 2.4L, 16 vlv DOCH 2.2L
Power 185 HP 148 HP
Torque 163 lb-ft 258 lb-ft
Transmission 5-spd Auto 6-spd Manual
Fuel Regular Unleaded ULSD Diesel
Length, mm(in) 178.3in 4570mm
Width, mm(in) 71.6in 2095mm
Height, mm(in) 65.1 in 1685mm
Weight, kg(lbs) 3305 lbs 1753 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) 37 / 71 cuft  
Turning radius, m(ft) 37 ft c-c 11.8m c-c
Top speed, kph(mph)   118 mph



You may also like:

1. So you want a seven-seat car that does better than 30 mpg

2. EV Price Slashed: Now Is It Competitive? - a Cost Comparison Tutorial


More aboutCars News and Reviews Review: Honda CR-V- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Cars News and Reviews Arctic Sea Ice Visualisations- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

Arctic sea ice is melting apace, and will soon leave a watery expanse where the earth used to show a white-capped north pole. The diminishing of sea ice at the polar region is already altering the jet stream and making extreme weather events more extreme and of longer duration. There is worrisome evidence of the spread of disease as temperatures are rising around the north pole.

The movie "Chasing Ice" gives a glimpse of the enormity of the melting of the vast Greenland ice sheet. When that ice sheet releases ice into the sea in the process of calving, it does so in chunks the size of Manhattan - only quite a bit taller. The scale of that ice sheet is hard to comprehend.

But the area covered (still, so far) by arctic sea ice is even larger than Greenland. And it looks like all that is melting away as well, at an ever increasing rate since the 1980s.

Andy Lee Robinson, who is at that rare cross-roads between geeky techno-savvy and highly creative artistic talent, has made a movie that shows the total volume of arctic ice as the years go by: basically we're witnessing the melting of a gigantic ice cube.

The graph shows all the data; but it doesn't hit you in the gut like the movie does. Make sure to have sound on.

Arctic Sea Ice minimum volume 1979-2012. (31 secs)

The volume of arctic sea ice is at its smallest in September, when it's been reduced by melting all summer. Of course it is replenished every winter by snow fall and freezing temperatures, but as the film below (also by Robinson) shows, in the past 25 years or so the melting has overwhelmed the replenishing, to the point that perhaps 2013 will be the first year that the Arctic will be ice-free.

Arctic Death Spiral. (46 secs)

Here is the static two-dimensional chart of that melting: the centre of the spiral is where no ice is left; we're getting close.

What to do about it?

Leave your car in its parking spot as much as you possibly can. When the time comes, replace it with a gas sipper (better yet, arrange your life so you don't need a car). Go without air conditioning in summer, turn down the thermostat in winter. Because there are so many of us, every little bit that each of us does, really makes a difference.

Just to be clear: this is not only about the polar bear.

Photo by Nicolas Liuzzi via Flickr



You may also like:

1. Slash your carbon footprint

2. How to buy a gas sipper for less


More aboutCars News and Reviews Arctic Sea Ice Visualisations- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Cars News and Reviews How to Save Water (and Work) When Washing Your Car, Part 2- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

CelloDad found a way to clean the underside of the car, from the comfort of the driver seat. Told you he's inventive.



You may also like:

1. How to Save Water (and Work) When Washing Your Car (Part 1)

2. A Non-Toxic Cleaning for your Car Interior

3. All-wheel drive (AWD): not all it's cranked up to be


More aboutCars News and Reviews How to Save Water (and Work) When Washing Your Car, Part 2- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Cars News and Reviews Green Is Frugal! Reducing Car Use and Meat Consumption- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

In a recent survey, readers of the Reduce Footprints blog said that the toughest challenges in green living are reducing the use of the car and reducing meat in our diet. I totally get that: Like with most people, my mouth starts to water when I catch the smell of a nice steak on the grill (why, even writing about it gets it going). And the car is so convenient. Besides, even if you tried you couldn't get away from it, since many of us live in suburbs or small towns where you don't get anything done (work, play, groceries) without a car.

Photo SpaceMonkey

But while biological imperative and the pressures exerted by an inherited infrastructure can be strong, that doesn't mean that we have to let go all the brakes and jump in our SUVs to drive to the nearest steakhouse. We can put up a resistance.

Ah, you say, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I get that too: personally, I particularly shine at energy conservation when we're talking about physical energy that my body has to exert. On cold or rainy days that car really beckons to me.

So I need a motivation that's stronger than the objections my wily self can put up (and she is wily, my evil twin). One such motivation is that the green way also tends to be the frugal way, almost always in the long term, and often also with immediate effect.

Who doesn't like some money savings?

Even if you could ignore the 27 lbs of carbon dioxide emitted for every pound of beef: boneless sirloin steak costs about $7 per pound (numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics); indeed the price of beef in general has been rising this past year. In fact, the price hikes have meat producers worried that beef will once again become a luxury food.

Aha! those are the magic words: "luxury foods". Because a dozen large eggs (1.7 lbs total) costs about $2. A pound of dried beans is $2. A pound of tofu is about $1. All of these alternatives have a much smaller per-pound carbon footprint than beef, e.g. 1.9 lbs CO2 for a pound of dried beans.

If I make baked beans with eggs and a side of kale, I spend $8 total to feed my family for two dinners. If I serve steak, the $7 for the pound of sirloin would just be the beginning for a single meal. And that's for conventional sirloin, highly likely to be CAFO meat.

Apart from cost and carbon, eating low on the food chain is good for you on many levels, so you save on health care costs in the long run. So rather than going meatless once a week, my family does the opposite: we eat meat once a week (except ViolaPlayer, who has gone pescatarian). The savings on reduced meat purchases allow us to upgrade to organic fruits and vegetables. Now that summer is on, my CSA delivers, for less than $20 a week, a bounty of organic vegetables, enough to feed my family of four, plus extra to share with friends and to preserve for the winter.

I do have to drive a bit to get to my CSA farm, since half the share consists of pick-your-own crops (which cuts the cost and is intensely pleasurable). And that gets me to the car.

Living in the US it's easy to forget this, because cars are so ubiquitous and so cheap, but in many parts of the world the car is still a luxury item. Even here, where we think of the car as a necessity, we spend on average as much time actually driving the car, as working to be able to afford driving the car: 10 hours a week. If you work 40 hours a week, this means that all of your Monday, plus part of Tuesday morning, you're working just for your car. That's a lot of time! Since for many of us time is the ultimate luxury, perhaps the car is still a luxury item after all.

Even money-wise, it's far from inexpensive, especially now the price of gas is nearing $4 per gallon again. Each car has its own operating cost, but as a ballpark number you can use 56.5 cents per mile, the standard Federal mileage rate for 2013 for the use of a car for business purposes. This is in line with the per-mile cost to drive a car as estimated by Consumer Reports.

So if you drive to your local library, say 3 miles from your house, that's $3.39 for the round trip, plus any parking fees. This is why I pay the $0.10 a day late fee on a book rather than making a special car trip to the library for it. (When the roads are clear I just bike: that's zero for fuel and zero for parking, and it keeps me healthier and happier).

Photo by Carlton Reid

Stencil Design by Peter Drew of Adelaide

If you commute to work five days a week (250 days a year), every 10 miles you live farther away from work costs an extra $0.565 * 10 * 2 *250 = $ 2,825 per year. If you are one of those "super-commuters" that do 50 miles or more each way, you're spending at least $14,000 a year just to get to work: all I can say is, that job had better be worth it!

The half dollar per mile and the carbon emissions have conspired to turn me into a real mile-miser: I skimp on miles the way other people might skimp on calories. (Me, I need those calories for biking to my in-town errands). CelloPlayer is part of a three-family rideshare scheme for the school commute. ViolaPlayer walks to the high school now, and is thereby released from the tyranny of the back seat. Since CelloDad telecommutes, we're a one-car family, and I can declare a car-free day once a week - more if I'm really smart about scheduling my car-borne errands. All these strategies add up to a bundle of savings every year.

One very effective tool to cut down on unnecessary miles is keeping track of the miles you don't drive, because you become very mindful. Keep a paper sheet (or a spreadsheet) on which you log the miles you've avoided driving by your creative strategies, such as bundling errands, ridesharing, or substituting ingredients in cooking (so you avoid driving to the store for half a cup of rice). Remind yourself that every mile not driven saves 56.5 cents, as well as one pound of carbon dioxide if your car gets 20 mpg. Do this for a week and see the savings add up. (Actually, this was another challenge at Reduced Footprints).

Our planet will be grateful for every pound of CO2 you don't emit. And the money savings over time can be substantial.

Here is one place where I re-direct some of that money: I do a regular milk run, on which I pick up organic raw milk for four families (saving miles for my friends). My milk farmer also sells grass-fed organic beef, and free-range organic chicken. That's where our weekly meat meal comes from. Hey, if your meat dinner is a once-a-week luxury treat, let it be the good stuff.


Inspired by Reduce Footprints' Change The World Wednesday. Shared at Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Simply Natural Saturdays, and Natural Living Monday.


You may also like:

1. Freeing our food from fossil fuels

2. A Locavore in Winter

3. Strategies for increased fuel efficiency

4. How to buy a gas sipper for less


More aboutCars News and Reviews Green Is Frugal! Reducing Car Use and Meat Consumption- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Cars News and Reviews EV Price Slashed: Now Is It Competitive? - a Cost Comparison Tutorial- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

Electric vehicles are touted as the way to drastically reduce the nation's transportation carbon footprint, especially once we have managed to transition our electricity grid away from fossil-fueled utilities, such as coal-burning plants. But so far sales of EVs have been anemic.

The disappointing sales figures partly stem from the driving public's doubts about the batteries, that are optimised within a narrow temperature range, and which are expensive to replace. But even without this concern, the hefty price premium on most EVs are a real deterrent, even if you take into account the $7,500 support the Federal government offers towards the purchase of an EV.

That is about to change, as several manufacturers of EVs have decided to drastically cut the MSRP of their EV offerings. The Nissan Leaf went from $35,200 to $28,800, and the monthly lease on a Honda Fit EV went from $389 to $259 a month. With these hefty cuts, EVs come into range for a lot more people.

So let us sit down and see if now it makes sense to buy an EV rather than a conventional gasoline-powered car. Obviously, there is some math involved here, but I promise it's nowhere near as bad as, say, your Federal tax return. If you've passed middle school, you can do this.

Like all good tutorials, from building a tool shed to sewing cloth diapers, I will show the finished product up front. (Sorry, no pretty pictures in this post: this is a cost estimate. After all, there are no pretty pictures on your tax return forms, either).


  Nissan Leaf Honda Fit EV


Purchase Cost $ 21,300 $ 9,324
Operation Cost $ 4,854 $ 1,567
TOTAL $ 26,154 $ 10,891
Comparison Vehicle (gasoline) Nissan Versa

Honda Fit

(1.8S Auto)
Purchase Cost $ 15,460 $ 7,700
Operation Cost $ 21, 429 $ 5,806
TOTAL $ 36,889 $ 13,506
EV Savings $ 10,735 $ 2,615
Annual Savings $ 1,074 $ 872

Figuratively speaking, this forms a pretty picture indeed: in the long term, there are big savings to be had from choosing an EV over a conventional car. Read on to see what assumptions go into these numbers, and how to do this estimate for yourself.


How to figure the cost.

To do this, we'll figure out the cost to own and drive the EV for ten years, and compare that to the cost to own and drive a gasoline car in the same category. I chose ten years of ownership because it's a round number, and because ten years is the length of time over which Toyota guarantees the batteries in its Prius model; if you intend to keep your EV beyond ten years you may want to include the price of replacement batteries in the calculation.

For annual miles, I use 15,000 miles, close to the nation's average. You can estimate your own annual miles by dividing the number of miles you've put on the car, by the number of years you've owned the car.


Purchase Cost.

The purchase price of the car includes the MSRP and any applicable Federal tax credit:

PURCHASE = MSRP - Fed tax credit.

To keep things simple, I don't consider the costs of financing which vary from person to person. And since interest rates are so low, including the financing costs will not be wildly different from using the straight MSRP.

Operation Cost.

The total cost of running the car depends on the number of years you intend to own it, the number of miles you drive in a year, the fuel efficiency of the car, and the price of fuel. For a gasoline car, that's straightforward:

OPERATION-G = # Years * annual miles * $/gallon / MPG

In the equation above, the price of gasoline is the wildcard: you need to put in your best guess of what gas will cost during the next ten years. Currently, the US average for regular unleaded is $3.63 a gallon as reported by I am not optimistic that we will see a drastic reduction in that price in the next decade, so I use a cautious average of $4 per gallon (even though I personally believe it is likely to go above that).

The running costs for an EV is very similar, except that you need to use MPG-e for the fuel efficiency. Since you don't pay for your electricity by the MPG-e but by the kiloWatt-hour (kWh), you need to multiply the MPG-e number by 0.0292 to get the fuel effciency in miles per kWh, so:

OPERATION-EV = # Years * annual miles * $/kWh electricity /                                                            (0.0292*MPG-e)

You know better than anyone how much you pay for electricity; for our example I'm going to use the current national average rate, $0.12 per kWh. This is another wildcard: the price of electricity will likely be strongly influenced by the price of natural gas, which in turn is tied to the controversial fate of all those fracking operations, as well as the future of the solar photovoltaic installations now just coming online.

Now we're ready to do some comparisons.

Nissan Leaf vs. Nissan Versa Hatchback

Within the Nissan lineup, the Versa Hatchback is the car that is most similar to the Leaf, so I will use that as an example. If you follow the steps below, you can do the math for the gasoline car of your choice.

Let's start with the Leaf: its real-life efficiency is 127 MPG-e; the price is $28,800, and it qualifies for the Federal tax credit:

PURCHASE = MSRP - Fed tax credit.

PURCHASE-Leaf = $ 28,800 - $ 7,500 = $21,300

OPERATION-EV = # Years * annual miles * $/kWh / (0.0292*MPG-e)

OPERATION-Leaf = 10 * 15,000 * $0.12/kWh / (0.0292*127) = $ 4,854

TOTAL-Leaf = $ 26,154

For the Nissan Versa Hatchback, I chose the 1.8S Manual version, because it has the lowest MSRP: $15,460, and the highest fuel efficiency: 28 mpg. Of course, the Federal tax credit is zero.

PURCHASE = MSRP - Fed tax credit.

PURCHASE-Versa = $ 15,460

OPERATION-G = # Years * annual miles * $/gallon gasoline / MPG

OPERATION-Versa = 10 * 15,000 * $4/gallon / 28 = $ 21,429

TOTAL-Versa = $36,889

There you have it: at today's gasoline and electricity prices, the average US driver will spend, over a period of ten years, $ 10,735 less on the electric Leaf than on the gasoline Versa, a savings of $ 1,074 per year. Even before the price cut it would have made more sense to buy the Leaf, but not by such a clear margin.

The more you drive, the larger the advantage of owning a Leaf, in terms of expenses. The higher the price of gasoline rises compared to the price of electricity, the better off you are with a Leaf than with a Versa. Even at 15,000 annual miles, the difference between paying for gasoline (for the Versa) and paying for electricity (for the Leaf) is a staggering $ 16,575.

(At savings like that, who cares that the protruding headlights make the car look bug-eyed? I mean, the VW Beetle is even officially named a bug, and it has earned enduring popularity through the decades).


Honda Fit vs Honda Fit EV

Next, let's take a look at the Honda Fit EV, which is only available on a three-year lease at $259 per month. As it happens, Honda is currently offering a special on the gasoline-powered Fit, also a three-year lease at $220 a month; this will make a nice apples-to-apples comparison. The fuel economy is 118 MPG-e for the EV and 31 mpg for the regular Fit with auto transmission.

For the three years, the total cost to lease and run the car is:

PURCHASE-FitAuto = $ 7,700

OPERATION-FitAuto = $ 5,806

TOTAL-FitAuto = $ 13,506

PURCHASE-FitEV = $ 9,324

OPERATION-FitEV = $ 1,567

TOTAL-FitEV = $ 10,891

The difference in total expenses is $ 2,615 over three years, so the yearly saving is $ 872. When the special offer on the gasoline Fit expires, the savings will be larger. Again, these numbers are for the average US driver. But now you know how to put in numbers which are appropriate for your personal case.


Money savings vs. carbon savings.

Money-wise, the choice is very clear: unless you don't drive very much at all, you end up saving bucks by driving the electric car. Even if, like me, you drive 8,000 miles per year, it's still worth buying the EV. But the real attraction is that the EV is potentially the road to zero, or at least very low, carbon emissions.

Whether or not choosing the EV actually decreases your carbon footprint compared to driving a conventional car, depends on where you get your electricity from. If your utility generates its electricity at coal-burning plants, an EV is not that much better than a gasoline powered car, despite the "zero emissions" slogan, meaning no emissions from the tailpipe. Well duh: an EV has no exhaust line on its tail. However, effectively its tailpipe is the smokestack of the power plant that generates its electricity.

Shrink That Footprint has a great infographic on EV carbon emissions in various countries. The countries in which EVs do best are those which are far along in the transition away from fossil fuels, like Paraguay (hydro), Sweden (hydro/nuclear) and Iceland (hydro/ geothermal).

In Norway, where nearly all electricity is generated from hydro so the "zero emissions" tag is actually accurate, the Leaf has been the second best selling car this spring, despite its price tag of NKr 240,690 (US $ 41,400). The best seller is the new VW Golf, whose NKr 242,300 (US $ 41,700) price tag does not reflect tax breaks that the Norwegian government bestows on electric vehicles.

Just to remind you that cars are still dirt cheap in the US.

Family Eco-car vs. boys' eco-toy.

Finally, a word about why I haven't mentioned Tesla. The current incarnations of the Tesla fall into the muscle car category (albeit with novelty muscle): it should be classed with the Porches, Lotuses, Camaros and other "sports" cars with more than 400HP under the hood. You don't buy any of those to save money; au contraire, part of their appeal is their very expense.

So until Tesla starts manufacturing cars for families, it will not be part of the broader energy transition. But real family EVs, like the Leaf and the Fit EV, will pave the way. Especially now that they start to fit in better with the math of family finances.


Shared at Green Living Thursdays.



You may also like:

1. "List Price" around the world, or Cars are Cheap in the US

2. Boys with (Electric) Toys

3. The charged issue of electric cars


More aboutCars News and Reviews EV Price Slashed: Now Is It Competitive? - a Cost Comparison Tutorial- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS